Walking down 101 on a blustery Saturday, wind tearing up the concrete of the ave, all the patio hounds driven inside, and any faint hope of spring roses crushed. The wild ripping air doesn’t stop the native man that just passed me, his long hair tucked beneath a dirty ballcap, his backpack open. Breezes right past me and I think nothing of it until I see two mall cops appear from out of nowhere and give chase.
They’re shouting and screaming at the man like he just slew their first born. He’s got about a half a block on them, but he’s starting to peter out. He knows he’s skinned and cooked. He’s down to a slow jog now, which is pretty pointless considering that the two blackshoe cowboys are almost upon him. The two stompers grab him and haul him to the ground with a crash. The younger guard grabs the guy’s head and gives his neck a sadistic twist. I see the native’s face wince as he lets out a gasp of pain. The other guard grabs the native’s legs and tries to pretzel them up around his back. It looks painful. It looks like a not quite by-the-letter training manual take down, and I can’t help but wonder what this guy did, what he stole, what really happened. His pack isn’t big enough to hold anything of consequence. Might fit a pair of jeans in there if he’s lucky. Who knows, maybe the guy jacked a diamond bracelet.
From out of nowhere, 3 more security jocks rush in and join in the melee. Each one grabs an appendage and before long five white guys with big flashlights and no badges are pinning one native petty thief to the sidewalk on 101 and 103 – across the street from the Hilton Hotel, one of E-Town’s swankiest. The security heads are yelling, the native guy is spewing. It’s an ugly scene for everyone involved.
Maybe that’s how it comes down when you’re a petty criminal, tied to the pipe and the bottle and the mercy of the tattooed, sandaled masses who don’t give change to wagonburner liskin trash like you. They give only to the white beggars with the gristled beards because they’re cleaner and they’re not junkies or alcoholics, they’re just down on their luck. And so you do what you gotta do and maybe you get tackled by a coupla mugs that kept the thirst but couldn’t cut it as cops. Maybe as you’re face down on the ground, you kinda wish they were cops for dignity’s sake.
And maybe that’s how it goes as a blue suited guard. You do your job busting shoplifting mothers and loitering junkies. You wait for the call that says “pursue and detain” and you do it. You don’t ask yourself how you’d pursue and detain a white man, a black man, a native man. You do what your blood tells you and maybe you go too far. Maybe you don’t go far enough. Maybe you do your job well and right and maybe you’re sorry in the morning and maybe everything gets swallowed with breakfast so it doesn’t matter anyways. Maybe it’s a hard fuckin’ job that nobody really wants.
The five blue suits pick up the cuffed man and drag him off to wherever it is that they take such men. The wind rips down the street with a gasping freeze. I duck into the gilded doorway of Holt Renfrew for a respite. I can see the clerks giving me the evil eye from inside. That scene on the sidewalk runs through my head all the way home. The skyward wince of the native man’s face. His runners in the air as the mall cops sacked him. His long hair spilling onto the concrete. His reasons for doing what he did.
StreetRag ::: An Urban Notebook
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?